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How To Help Prevent Suicide

Suicide: How To Help Prevent Suicide

Organised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP), World Suicide Prevention Day is 10th September 2018. The day aims to raise awareness of the risks of suicide and spread knowledge of what you can do to help prevent suicide.

More than 800,000 people die by suicide in the world each year. That’s one person every 40 seconds. In the UK alone, one person every 90 minutes dies from suicide. And for every one suicide, 25 other people make an attempt.

In London teenage suicides have risen by 107% – that’s more than four times the national rate, according to Brent Centre for Young People.

The impact of suicide reaches far wider than many realise; it is thought that 135 people are affected by each and every suicide – that’s the equivalent of 108 million bereaved worldwide each year.

What’s important is that we can all play a part in helping to reduce these numbers through learning how to spot the warning signs in friends and family. Although it doesn’t apply to everyone, it is a fact that most people who commit suicide are suffering from depression.

Myths about suicide

Myth: People who threaten suicide are just attention seeking.
Any threat of suicide should be taken seriously. Pay attention to any threats of suicide and help your friend to get support – you could just save their life.

Myth: Talking about suicide might give someone the idea to do it.
Although talking about suicide is still considered controversial, the reality is that talking about it may actually help. People who are feeling suicidal may not want to worry anyone so tend not to discuss how they are feeling, but those who have felt suicidal have often reported relief when someone asks them about how they are feeling because it gives them permission to talk about it. So, opening up a dialogue could help to prevent suicide.

Risk factors for suicide

‘There is no simple reason for why someone may be experiencing suicidal thoughts. Suicide is very complex in nature, and is the result of a mixture of risk factors.’ explains Dr Rafael Euba, Consultant Psychiatrist at The London Psychiatry Centre.

‘Certain factors can contribute to a person being at a higher risk of suicide; these include (but are not limited to) experience of trauma, genetic risk, and alcohol and/or drug abuse. Psychological factors like depression are strongly associated with suicidal risk.

‘A person may be at higher risk of suicide of they have previous history of attempts, are having suicidal thoughts or plans, experiencing agitation, lack of support and are feeling hopeless.’

Whether you are male or female also plays a part – around three-quarters of all suicides are male and it is more likely in those aged 30-50 (Samaritans).

What are the signs of depression?

Depression is heavily linked to risk of suicide. Recognising and understanding the signs of depression could help prevent a suicide; it’s important these are taken seriously. Phrases like ‘I feel like a burden…’, ‘The world would be better off without me’ should be considered a cry for help.

‘When someone is feeling depressed they may be unable to communicate this to others but you may notice changes in their behaviour that can indicate they need help,’ explains Dr Euba. Below is a list of some (by no means all) of the signs you may notice from someone with depression.

Behavioural
You may notice some (or all of) these behavioural signs:

  • Emotional outbursts
  • Drinking or using drugs more
  • Talking about wanting to take one’s life
  • Talking about being in unbearable pain
  • Discussing being a burden to others
  • Drinking more than normal
  • Acting anxious
  • Withdrawal from social activities
  • Seeing less and less of friends and family
  • Risk-taking that seems out of character
  • Giving away items of significance

Physical
You may notice some (or all of) the following physical signs:

  • Problems sleeping
  • Lack of energy
  • Change in eating habits
  • Weight gain (or loss)
  • Lack of personal hygiene

Emotional
You may notice some (or all) of these emotional signs:

  • Extreme mood swings
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Loneliness
  • Shame
  • Hopelessness
  • Feeling disconnected

What can you do to help?

‘Talking about feelings can provide someone who is depressed with relief and the opportunity to feel like they can open up which can lead to getting help and, in turn, reduce the risk of suicide. By having open conversations about feelings, suicide and mental health issues, we can help to broaden awareness of the issue and also help to reduce the number of suicides,’ explains Dr Euba.

There are things you can do to help if you are concerned about a friend of family member and these include:

1. Empathise with them – acknowledge how they are feeling, reassure them that they are not alone, and that what they are experiencing can be overcome.

2. Ask open ended questions to encourage them to talk to you. ‘Is everything ok? I’ve noticed…’; ‘I’m worried about you because…’; ‘What can I do to help?’; ‘I’m here if you would like to talk”.

3. Listen. You don’t always need to have answers, but simply listening without judgement can make a big difference.

4. Stay in touch. Reaching out frequently can help your friend to feel connected and supported. It’s often the little things that make the difference.

5. Try to give practical support where possible. If you know or think your friend may be suffering with a mental health issue, you can encourage them to seek treatment and help them to do so. Many people who die by suicide also have untreated mental health issues like depression, and so intervening and helping your friend to seek treatment for this could make all the difference.

Unfortunately there are a proportion of people who have tried both talking therapies and antidepressants but have found both unsuccessful. The good news is that there is still help available for those with treatment-resistant depression (TRD) in the form of repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (rTMS).

rTMS is a drug-free, non-invasive treatment for depression that uses magnetic pulses to activate the are of the brain that regulates mood. This treatment has been very successful and here at The London Psychiatry Centre 60% of women and 69% of men who have been treated for TRD with rTMS have recovered.

If your friend is talking about the specifics of how they are planning to end their life and when they are going to do so, don’t handle the situation on your own. It is advised to call 111 who will put you in touch with the Crisis Resolution and Home Treatment (CRHT) team. The CRHT will be able to assess your friend’s needs, assist with self-help strategies and offer help. If you are worried about their safety and feel they need immediate intervention, call 999 and ask for an ambulance.

Remember that helping someone with suicidal feelings may also have an impact you, and it’s vital that you take care of yourself, too.

If you are seeking support for any mental health problem, whether for yourself or someone else, our team of experienced private consultant psychiatrists and psychologists are able to provide help. Call our team on 020 7580 4224 to discuss booking a consultation.